Exploring individual identity

Each person is a unique individual with a distinct character. But when isolated from the rest, each character trait can also be found in other people. Fragments of other personalities exist within each of us, not only because personality traits are shared but also because people are shaped by their relationships with others they meet in life. The complex puzzle of personality is explored in «Nexus 2,» a solo exhibition on the work of British artist Timothy Sarson on view at the Astra Gallery. The 25 black-and-white charcoal portraits on show play with the notion of identity and evoke the need for a sense of belonging. «Nexus 2» is based on five portrait photographs of the surrealists Rene Crevel, Andre Breton, Luis Bunuel, Georges Hugnet and Alberto Giacometti that were taken in the late 1920s and early 30s by Man Ray. Sarson has reproduced these portraits in five separate drawings, each of them presented in a grid-like pattern. The remaining 20 portraits derived as composites from those first «master» drawings. Each of these is divided into 20 grids with each grid consisting of a different piece culled from the first five portraits. (To make the hybrid portraits, Sarson constructed a pattern of colored grids and paired each color with one of the five portraits.) The outcomes are fictional, hybrid characters that, for example, may be part Bunuel, part Giacometti and part Breton all at once. During the process of making the series, Sarson researched the characters of the five surrealists depicted and was intrigued by their differences and idiosyncrasies. The exhibition deconstructs individual identity to its smallest parts and suggests that each character is a composite of traits shared too by other people. It alludes to wholeness and connections as well as fragmentation and alienation, both on a personal and societal level. Yet what probably prevails is a sense a warm and moving sentiment born from the realization of our connection to others. Although Sarson used a grid system and a particular pattern for making each portrait, he did not know what each of the portraits would look like until he had drawn them. This rather accidental process may be seen as a metaphor for the unpredictable and complex nature of human character. Also part of the exhibition are a series of five portraits that show the artist Alexander Calder gradually transforming into the composer Arnold Schoenberg. It is also the portrait of a young man gradually becoming an older man. Although the facial features of the two artists are entirely different, Sarson has produced such a smooth and masterly transformation that the viewer believes the portrait is of the same man. In contrast to a previous series depicting covered heads and alluding to «silenced people,» all of the portraits in «Nexus 2» stare out at the viewer, challenging him to delve into his own character and to understand our existence as part of a broader context of connections and cross references. «Nexus 2» at the Astra Gallery (8 Karyatidon, tel 210.922.0236) through March 24.